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Iran Report: March 6, 2000

6 March 2000, Volume 3, Number 10

KARBASCHI DISCUSSES RAFSANJANI AND FACTIONALISM. Former Tehran Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi, who was recently released from prison after serving eight months of a conviction on corruption charges, gave an interview to RFE/RL's Persian Service on 2 March. He discussed a range of topics, but his comments about Expediency Council chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani are particularly relevant in light of the newly-elected parliament's future.

Asked about the effect of Rafsanjani's poor showing in the election and the possibility of lasting splits between the Executives of Construction Party and other members of the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition, he had this to say: "Whoever was against [Rafsanjani] probably didn't vote for him. ... if the majority of the parliament votes for him he will become speaker of parliament ... and if they are against his being speaker of parliament they will not vote for him. ... this is not a real issue of concern." He added that cooperation between factions is not based on Rafsanjani's possible leadership of parliament.

Some have come to see Rafsanjani as a right-wing figure, while others see him as above factionalism. Karbaschi was asked where he thinks Rafsanjani's sympathies and tendencies lie.

"I cannot really speak for him on this. Since the beginning [Rafsanjani] has always been a moderate and centrist. In other words he was a member of the Ruhaniyat [the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association, or Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran], which is effectively right-wing, but he never had a radical tendency in the Ruhaniyat. ... I think Mr. Rafsanjani is a faction, he is a line, he is a model, for people who never really pursued extremes in the country's cultural and political affairs. Now it is possible that some link this centrism with the right, ... [while] some at the beginning of the revolution accused him of being left-wing and some even said he had a hammer and sickle under his clerical robes. There have always been these accusations. The most that can be said about him is that he followed a centrist and moderate path. All the groups have basically cooperated but sometimes, of course, there is publicity against or for him."

Asked about his own return to politics, Karbaschi said that "Legally I am banned from political leadership and government service for ten years, but I want to continue in public service." (Bill Samii)

WRONG MEN TRIED FOR UNIVERSITY INCIDENT. The trial of about 20 law enforcement officers for raiding a Tehran University hostel in July 1999, which led to a week of violent demonstrations, began on 29 February. This is an important step in realizing the rule of law that President Mohammad Khatami has called for. A number of the protesters, however, are still imprisoned and at least one of them is facing the death penalty. And an Iranian commentator suggests that the individuals who are actually responsible for the violence are not being tried.

The trial at the Tehran military court started on 29 February, on the basis of 397 complaints filed by students, 18 of which serve as the basis for this case. The highest- ranking person on trial is Tehran Law Enforcement Forces chief Farhad Nazari. Other senior officers on trial are commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps special unit Colonel Jamshid Khodabakhshi, special squad commander Farhad Arjmandi, deputy commander Captain Ramin Nazari, and a lieutenant. The others facing charges are enlisted personnel.

The charges against Nazari include issuing orders to attack the university despite instructions to the contrary from the Interior Ministry. The others are charged with forcible entry to the dormitory and use of excessive violence. The lieutenant also is charged with stealing an electric shaver.

The attorney for the complainants is Hojatoleslam Mohsen Rahami, who defended Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri during his trial in late-1999. He said in the first hearing that the attack on the student housing was pre-arranged, and Nazari was just waiting for a pre-text to launch the attack. Rahami also questioned why civilians who assisted the police in the attack are not being tried.

The Armed Forces Judicial Organization's 5 December report on the July incident, as well as one released in August, had said that non-uniformed individuals were involved in the attack on the university. And according to the testimony given on the hearing's first day, individuals in civilian clothes were directly involved in the violence against the students in the dormitory, "Entekhab" reported on 1 March. Files of civilians involved in the violence have been referred to the Revolutionary Court, according to IRNA.

Journalist Abbas Abdi, in an interview with the 1 March "Asr-i Azadegan," argued that the wrong people are in the dock. "I believe that the persons who are facing the trial, are not the main elements responsible for the attack on Tehran University's dormitory. That is, there were others who paved the way, in theory and practice, for the attack. The persons who are tried, are themselves victims. What does a 25-year old man, who illegally entered the university hostels and beat up the students, understand? ... His senior commanders, who hatched the plot and issued orders, must be tried. At any rate, we hope that the trial of these persons will be a prelude to the trial of the main elements who conducted the operations behind the scene."

Over 1500 students were arrested after the riots. One of the students sentenced to death for his part in the July unrest, Akbar Mohammadi, complained that he has been bastinadoed and beaten, according to the 1 March "Arya." He said others were tortured, too. Amnesty International issued an appeal on Mohammadi's behalf on 22 February. Also, the Revolutionary Court issued prison sentences of 13-15 years for three member of the Iran Nations Party for their parts in the July events. Revolutionary Court Judge Gholamhussein Rahbarpur said last September that four people had received death sentences for their parts in the unrest, and he added that members of the Iran Nations Party were also involved (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 20 September 1999). (Bill Samii)

IS REPRESSION PART OF A PLAN? "Our brothers in the Basij and police...must increase their moral, social and cultural enforcement and carry out Islamic punishments precisely, so the middle class feels fed up and believes the reformists are incompetent," the Ansar-i Hizbullah's "Jebheh" pronounced on 26 February. This report, as well as subsequent developments, have led to speculation that there is a hardline plan to show people that social reforms are impossible, despite the parliamentary election.

Shoppers at an upscale Tehran mall complained that in the days since the election they have been subject to increased harassment by the Law Enforcement Forces and the paramilitary Basij Resistance Forces, Reuters reported on 29 February. Also, satellite dishes have been confiscated, since they are illegal.

Also, a van full of singing and clapping girls was stopped by members of the Basij. The passengers were held at a mosque until their parents collected them.

On 24 February, police raided Tehran's fashionable Sorento restaurant, which was hosting a birthday party. Law Enforcement Forces took away the young male and female patrons in waiting vans. The patrons were accused of mixing and the women were accused of improper dress (bad-hejabi), but restaurant manager Tahmasb Ahbabpour said the men and women were sitting apart, AP reported. The women, furthermore, were in proper Islamic apparel and were not wearing make-up. Even after the police searched the women's bags, no make-up was found.

Forty-two young people arrested at a dance in Shiraz were sentenced to 35 lashes each, "Kayhan" reported on 1 March. The daily said they were improperly dressed and dancing "together." The party's host was fined.

In a conversation with RFE/RL's Persian Service, however, "Jebheh" chief Masud Dehnamaki denied any connection with these events. And Tehran police chief Brigadier General Mohsen Ansari told Reuters on 2 March that there was no specific crackdown, "we are just continuing the old trend." (Bill Samii)

MORE ACADEMIC PROTESTS. "Hundreds" of teachers from Khorramabad and 150 cultural personalities in Luristan Province protested in front of the governorate against non-payment of wages, "Resalat" reported on 2 March. Students at Tehran's Allameh Tabatabai University staged a protest against the poor condition of their dormitories and the general lack of services, "Abrar" reported on 1 March.

Some 1200 students at Qazvin's Azad University staged a five-hour protest against the segregation of male and female students and against the recent increase in unexplained expulsions, "Asr-i Azadegan" reported on 29 February. University Dean Morteza Musi-Khani met with the protestors and told them that their demands would be unmet unless they returned to their classes.

Another 200 students from Qom's female-only Fatemieh Medical School staged their fifth sit-in against the poor quality of instruction and facilities at their institution (on previous protests, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2000 and 7 February 2000). They now are demanding the dismissal of the university's board of trustees, IRNA reported on 29 February. The university's chancellor has resigned, but the students say that their protests will continue until all their demands are met. (Bill Samii)

PREDICAMENTS WITH PRIVATIZATION. There has been a lot of talk about increasing privatization in the Iranian economy, under which the powerful semi-public foundations would divest their holdings. President Khatami's Third Development Plan, submitted to the parliament last autumn, also calls for increased privatization. At least one of the foundations, however, is moving in the opposite direction. Villagers from six villages in the Miandroud region have staged sit-ins to protest confiscation of their lands by the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan), "Tehran Times" reported on 28 February.

And there are indications that privatization is not working out. About 200 workers of Mobiliran, a furniture manufacturer privatized in 1992, blocked a highway to protest not being paid for the last 20 months. According to IRNA, the protest started when the factory's electricity was cut off due to its "heavy debt" to the power company. A similar protest was held last month. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Hussein Kamali said that Mobiliran's problems can be traced to its privatization and to mismanagement. (Bill Samii)

RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP. Iran got its first of three Russian Kilo-class submarines in 1992, and it developed batteries that would allow them to operate in the warm regional waters. The role of submarines in Iranian naval doctrine was described by Rear-Admiral Ashkbus Danesh-Kar in an interview with the military journal "Saff" in December. He said the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf make it better suited for laying mines and using shore-base missile batteries. The Sea of Oman and the Straits of Hormuz, however, are deeper and better suited for submarine operations. He added that "since the Sea of Oman is the first defense perimeter of the Persian Gulf, submarine operations rank high" in the navy's doctrinal priorities.

Expediency Council chief Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was in Bandar Abbas, Hormozgan Province, on 1 March to inaugurate a new center for submarine maintenance and repairs. Rafsanjani also inaugurated a submarine training center, state television reported.

Indeed, undersea warfare has been a part of most Iranian naval exercises in the 1990s. The ten-day Vahdat-78 naval warfare exercises held in the Straits of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf, and the Sea of Oman at the end of February involved submarines, as well as paratroopers, divers, aircraft, and ships.

The undersea warfare phase started on 28 February, Vice Admiral Abdullah Manavi told state broadcasting, and it involved attacks on surface ships by submarines, anti-submarine countermeasures, and simultaneous defensive tactics against aerial targets.

"Our submarines are equipped with the latest and most modern sound absorption devices as well as with equipment to weaken sonar waves. All these devices were successfully tested during the said maneuvers," Manavi told "Saff" in November after the last exercises. Manavi explained that the submarines conduct exercises in the Sea of Oman because "it has deep waters where friendly submarines can lay in wait deep under the sea. Using their sophisticated sonar and electronics devices, the submarine can then detect any naval vessel or formation which intends to commit aggression in the region."

Navy chief Vice Admiral Abbas Mohtaj told state broadcasting 29 February that during Vahdat-78 the Iranian armed forces used less live ammunition than they usually do in order to protect the environment. Foreign forces in the Persian Gulf, he added, "cause tension and pollution, and [they are] a serious threat to the region's ecosystem." He also said that the exercises, originally scheduled to end on 6 March, were being cut short by three days to reduce pollution. (Bill Samii)

MORE MISSILE EXPORTS? The Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani, announced that "we can manufacture whatever the country's political officials desire." And he added that "There now exists the capability to export the relevant know-how," according to state television on 29 February.

Shamkhani's comments, designed for a domestic audience, call into question the sincerity of Iranian officials' statements for international audiences. Hadi Nejad-Husseinian, Iran's representative at the UN, said on 29 February that industrialized and developed countries should adopt measures to prevent the proliferation and production of light and small weapons, IRNA reported. Last November, Nejad-Husseinian proposed a UN resolution on missile technology. And in October, "Tehran Times," an English-language daily affiliated with the semi-governmental Islamic Propagation Organization, said that "arms production is a crime against humanity."

A possible Iranian export item is the "Standard" surface-to-air missile, which was test-fired during the Vahdat-78 military exercises. Navy chief Vice Admiral Abbas Mohtaj said that "The missile has been designed and built by the talented researchers, scientists and industrialists of the Islamic Republic of Iran inside the country," state broadcasting reported on 1 March. Paykan-class boats will be equipped with the missile. The air-to-surface Fajr-i Darya missile was tested, too, as was electronic warfare equipment. (Bill Samii)

CONGRESS PASSES IRAN NON-PROLIFERATION ACT. The U.S. Congress unanimously passed the Iran Non-Proliferation Act on 1 March and sent it to President Bill Clinton. The measure authorizes the president to place sanctions on or stop military aid to entities transferring materials Iran could use to develop missile technology or to develop nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

Tehran official television responded to this development on 2 March by suggesting that Congress, "instead of paying attention to the baseless remarks of Zionist circles," should pay attention to the "documented reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)." By accusing Russia, China, and North Korea of cooperating with Iran's WMD programs, the TV commentary said, Washington is interfering with their bilateral relations and is in contravention of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The TV commentary went on to say that America "has also placed obstacles in the way of developing countries gaining access to nuclear power for scientific purposes."

The TV commentary explained that three points must considered when assessing the new U.S. law: First, America does not understand developments in Iran or in the region. Second, there are policy differences between Congress and the White House. And third, "the Americans seek to bring about global security in order to establish their own security domination, or hegemony." (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S NARCOTICS PROBLEM. "Iran confiscates 85 percent of all the drugs confiscated in this world, except for cocaine. [That means that of] all the morphine, opium, and heroin which is produced in the world and which is confiscated in the world, Iran confiscates more than 85 percent," UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) spokesman Sandro Tucci told RFE/RL. Tucci warned, however, that Iran stops only about 17 percent of the total traffic. That compares well with a ten percent confiscation rate which is considered the norm for drug interdiction efforts worldwide.

Tehran's effort to intercept narcotics is particularly difficult because Iran's eastern neighbor, Afghanistan, produces three times more opium than all other areas of the world combined, according to the UNDCP. The trade earns Afghan poppy growers some $69 million annually and supports an estimated 1.4 million people. And the problem is increasing. The country produced some 4,600 tons of opium last year, more than twice its yield in 1998.

Hussein Fallah, head of the Anti-Narcotics Headquarters, announced on 3 March that Tehran has allocated $1 billion to combat drug-trafficking on its eastern borders. The measures employed include static defenses throughout Khorasan and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces. such as trenches, watch towers, fortresses, and the blocking of mountain passes. Also, there are roadblocks throughout the country's roads at which vehicles are checked for narcotics. What makes the situation difficult is that predominantly Sunni ethnic minorities on the eastern side, such as Baluchi tribesmen, have more in common with their counterparts across the borders than they do with the central government. Tehran, furthermore, has done little to meet the region's economic needs, so people are forced into illegal activities to earn an income.

Sixty percent of the narcotics coming into Iran move on to Turkey, the Persian Gulf, and to Europe, Tucci told RFE/RL. Ethnic minorities on the western borders in West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Kermanshah Provinces, particularly Kurds, also have a long tradition of smuggling. Furthermore, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Tehran supports and which has bases in Iran, operates heroin refineries and taxes other narcotics smugglers, Anatolia new agency reported in October 1999.

Tucci said that 40 percent of the drugs go to major trading centers in Iran for domestic consumption. This has led to climbing addiction rates. About 1.5-2 percent of the Iranian population of approximately 68 million is addicted to drugs, according to an RFE/RL interview with Antonio Mazzitelli, who heads the UNDCP's Tehran office. Muzaffar Alavandi, head of Iran's Prisons Education and Research Organization, said 90,000 people are currently imprisoned for drugs offenses, "Fath" reported on 20 January. He added that a growing number of them have AIDS. Senior Iranian Health Ministry official Dr. Reza Labbaf Qassemi said that 67 percent of Iran's AIDS victims are drug addicts who acquired the disease through intravascular injection, IRNA reported in November 1999.

Some of the narcotics that get through Iran are distributed by organizations with Iranian links. Ghiaranlou Bahram, Manucher Kalldian, and Jafar Arabi were arrested in Bucharest 3 years ago for dealing drugs. According to the daily "Ziua" on 3 February, they were part of a larger Iranian ring that distributed heroin in Romania. Akbar Shakuri, Ardeshir Ali, and Ramin Geram were arrested in Sofia for distributing opium and heroin, "Trud" reported in August 1999. They were reportedly part of a gang that brought the drugs from Iran, through Turkey, and onwards to Europe. Fereidun Bajelani was arrested in Larnaca for trying to smuggle 4 kilograms of heroin hidden in three Persian carpets, Cyprus News Agency reported on 3 February. And police in Oman shot three Iranian drug smugglers on 22 February, Reuters reported the next day.

Tehran is pursuing bilateral efforts to stem the flow of drugs. A delegation from Iran's Anti-Narcotics Headquarters arrived in Cyprus on 22 February to "examine ways of cooperation" with its Cypriot counterpart, Cyprus News Agency reported. The two sides agreed to create a joint counter-narcotics program, IRNA reported on 28 February. Iranian Deputy Minister for Intelligence and Security Javad Akbarian went to Pakistan for discussions on drug interdiction (as well as car theft and terrorism), the "Pakistan Observer" reported on 17 February. Iran has held counter-narcotics discussions and/or signed Memoranda of Understanding with Armenia, Australia, France, Georgia, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and Turkmenistan, also.

From a multilateral perspective, Iran is a party to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs, it ratified the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in December 1992, and it allowed the UNDCP to open an office in Tehran in 1999. The Economic Cooperation Organization's Drug Control Coordination Unit met in Tehran on 26-27 February. In spite of all these agreements and discussions, Iran still gets a relatively small amount of substantive counter-narcotics aid. This led Vice President Mohammad Hashemi to say at a Tehran drug-control seminar in November 1999 not to pin any hopes on the promises of the UN and international organizations.

But it is Iran's own behavior -- specifically its assistance to terrorist organizations like Lebanon's Hizballah, HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the PKK -- that limits what the international organizations can do. For example, the U.S. is a contributor to the UNDCP. Under current legislation (Section 307.360 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961), however, anything the UNDCP or any other international organization contributes to Iran is withheld in a "proportionate share" by the U.S. Also, if other countries provide the sort of military or dual-use aid Iran is demanding, the U.S. government is obliged to place them under sanctions. (Bill Samii)

COMPLEXITIES OF GERMAN-IRANIAN RELATIONS. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is scheduled to visit Tehran on 6 March. Newly-elected parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami, the president's brother, described what he expects from Fischer's visit in an interview with the 2 March "Stern:" "Talks followed by action, above all in the fields of cultural exchange and economic investments." The main thrust of relations between the two countries is trade, but the relationship is more complex.

Another aspect of recent German-Iranian affairs relates to Israel. Late last year the two countries negotiated to arrange the release of five Lebanese Hizballah members held by Israel. It was speculated that information on missing Israeli force navigator Ron Arad, who was captured in southern Lebanon in 1986, would be provided in exchange. Attorney Tzvi Rishi said, however, that the release of the five Lebanese "involved relations between Germany and Iran," not Israel or Arad. He added, the "Jerusalem Post" reported on 9 January, that it was aimed at the release of German citizen Helmut Hofer, who was held in Iran over two years on various charges. "Nothing specific was determined with regard to Ron Arad."

Germany has negotiated similar exchanges in the past, such as the 1996 exchange of two dead Israelis for 45 prisoners and the remains of 123 other Lebanese, Beirut's "Daily Star" reported on 29 December. France has negotiated similar deals, too.

Some aspects of Iranian behavior still concern Germany. August Hanning, head of Bonn's federal intelligence service (BND) said that Iran and other countries, through subcontractors and cut-outs in Germany, "purchase important components for the production of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons," Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on 24 February. He added that Iran's nuclear program aims to control "the entire fuel cycle," and the biological weapons program will experience a "noticeable development thrust" because foreign experts have been hired.

German laws are strict against such transactions, but they are not strictly enforced. An official from the Cologne Customs Office of Criminal Investigation (ZKA) described 1996 raids that yielded sufficient information on Iranian procurement efforts to necessitate investigations of about 200 German firms, Munich's weekly "Focus" reported on 28 February. Eventually 28 firms were singled out for prosecution, but 12 of the cases were discontinued and 11 are still dragging on. There have been two indictments, and three other cases may be dismissed. "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reacted to this report on 29 February by accusing Germany of espionage.

Despite such concerns, President Mohammad Khatami told German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that he hopes to visit Germany soon, IRNA reported on 10 February. Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi visited Bonn in early-February to prepare for Khatami's forthcoming visit. (Bill Samii)